Between a blur of tiny planes, overnight trains, and rickshaw automobiles, a month of my time here in India has already passed. During the first week, I found myself in Mumbai with the India Innovation Studio, which is a part of Georgetown’s India Initiative. I spent the following three weeks with two fellow Hoyas at our internship in Anand, Gujarat.
Our internship has us designing and carrying out a research project about drought mitigation practices in Maharashtra with three other students from the Institute for Rural Management, Anand (IRMA). While I would love to write an entire article discussing Indian drought mitigation infrastructure (oh, the joys of deep continuous contour trenches), I think that there is a more important, and frankly a much more interesting, story to tell.
We spent the first week of our research in a small conference room: the three Georgetown students on one side of the table and the three IRMA students on the other. During that week, we discussed methodology, survey questions, and potential sites from behind our laptops. We were cautious to make decisions, not wanting to overstep but still wanting to make an impact. Working and reworking, we finally had a proposal that our superiors liked (read: didn’t hate) and so, we were off.
Four rickshaws, two buses, and an overnight train laid between us and our destination. We spent the journey occasionally interacting, but mostly in our own worlds. I listened to half of Americanah and watched three episodes of House of Cards while on the top bunk of the overnight train.
[A brief sidetone on trains in India: I think they are glorious. I’m sure the novelty wears off after a while, but I am still in the blissful honeymoon phase. During the day part of the trip you can go back and forth between drinking a cup of 6-cent tea in your compartment and leaning out of the doors between the cars to get a better view of the countryside. If my mother is reading this: I most definitely did not lean out of any moving train, even to get some really cool footage. During the night the train rocks you to sleep on the tracks, and before you know it you have arrived at your destination! Magic, I say.]
We visited our first village, Bidal, the next day. Our colleagues learned that to travel with three Americans meant attracting a lot of attention. The three of us were used to the constant stares and cars slowing down as they passed us; they were not. We began by meeting individually with farmers and later with a larger group of villagers. Our counterparts would translate to us, and we would take notes and ask questions. We went out to survey the infrastructure, asking detailed questions about the construction and efficacy and eventually devolving into chatting about our travels and the impending monsoon. During the car ride back, we had so much to talk about: what we saw, if it supported our hypothesis, etc. We excitedly chatted about how well the day went and how we hoped the rest of the week would go as well as our visit to Bidal.
When we came back, we were exhausted, but the Women’s Cricket World Cup was on. We went upstairs with the two girls and lounged around as we ate and watched the match. Being very much unaware of the rules of cricket, we had to rely on our Indian friends to explain. Their explanations were peppered with our interjections of “Oh, that’s similar in baseball, I understand.”
As we watched and chatted, we began to compare and contrast things other than sports. Food, politics, religion, sex, fashion, music – in short, everything under the sun. We asked each other all we wanted to know. “Do all Americans like Trump?” “What actually is American food?” “What are the parties like at your college?” “How do you say XYZ in Hindi?” “What is dating like here?” “Why do you wear a bindi if you’re an atheist?” Nobody held back or tried to soften their questions. We talked and laughed and listened to each other in the hours before bed.
Throughout the week, the six of us bonded. That’s not to say there weren’t any hiccups – we had issues with translations, what “meeting at 7am” actually means, and other roadblocks any research group could face. But throughout it all, we found ourselves to be more than research partners, but rather friends. Our friendship was founded on trying whatever food our friends ordered for us and insisting that we can do spicy even if we are American. Our friendships were founded on playing “Sweet Home Alabama,” “500 Miles,” and “Wannabe.” It was founded on everyone failing to skips rocks in the river outside the temple. It was founded on everyone being really excited about cropping patterns. It was founded on our similarities. It was founded on our differences. Our friendships were founded on car rides through the mountain highway in the monsoon rain.
And I’m excited to find more.